A sexual abuse and anorexia survivor is spearheading a campaign highlighting the hardships children have endured during lockdown.
Hope Virgo, from Earlsfield who is a full-time campaigner and author, has urged families to talk openly about trauma.
Her plea comes as charity Childline has been besieged by callers since March and has hosted 43,000 counselling sessions.
Hope has shared how she felt out of place as a teenager, dealing with sexual abuse and anorexia.
The full-time eating disorder campaigner struggled with anorexia and other mental health problems after being sexually abused by a man in a position of trust when she was 12.
Hope, now 30, said: “Looking back, I can’t believe I let myself be manipulated like that, but I was just a child.
“I thought we were in a relationship. We’d go for day trips together, and as time went on it got more physical. He’d ask me to touch him and play with him – I hated it. He’d touch me, too.
“I was so stressed out by the situation that on one occasion I ended up self-harming.
“I guess I wanted someone to know something was up, but I didn’t know how to say it. I didn’t want to ‘tell’ on him, but I also didn’t want to be in this situation. I thought it was my fault this whole thing had started happening.
“The problems with controlling what I ate started soon after all of this. In 2007 when I was 17 I’d been battling anorexia for four years and was finally admitted to a mental health ward. I ended up living in hospital for a year.
“In one of our sessions, the psychologist asked a leading question about it and that’s when I made my first disclosure. I started getting loads of nightmares about it – I’d wake up in the night and be scared that he’d come back.
“My mum got involved and then the police got involved, but I wasn’t well enough at the time to pursue it. I was still really ill in hospital. Looking back, I wish I’d gone ahead with it. I guess I didn’t want to ruin his life, even though he ruined my life.
“I remember when I started putting on weight and I started feeling things again. It made talking about what happened with the guy much harder.
“If I’d talked about it when I was still feeling invisible, it would have been much easier. I enjoyed not feeling anything. I could switch off.
“It’s affected my relationships. I have to explain to people why I might just clam up and get really nervous. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had all the therapy and made a good recovery.”
Hope is now a full-time mental health champion and author, talking to schools and companies about mental health.
Childline has delivered higher monthly numbers of counselling sessions about a range of mental health-related issues since March, including low self-esteem, loneliness and worries about the world.
Mental health remains the top reason young people get in touch with Childline, making up more than a third of all counselling sessions delivered.
Pictured top: Hope Virgo
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.